All posts by Richard Fisher

Eight-year member of the Epinions.com community. Onward and Upward!

KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer: The Future Was Then

KitchenAid Artisan 5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer in White


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(3.5/5)

Pros: Capable of performing the tasks it claims.  Multiple beater choices come standard.  Tilt-Head locking mechanism.  Power-take-off accepts attachments for juicing, pasta creation and other kitchen chores.


Cons: Weight may make it difficult to move for some.  Excessive motor noise and gear-clash annoying.  Dated styling and moderate footprint make countertop storage an issue.

The Attrezzi was sleeker and quieter - and it never had a chance.
The Attrezzi was sleeker and quieter – and it never had a chance.

For the past decade, I have had a successful bread-making relationship with the Jenn-Air Attrezzi stand mixer.  Also known as “Maytag’s Last Gasp”, this streamlined Italianesque small appliance was axed in April of 2006 when Whirlpool Corp. acquired Jenn-Air’s parent company.  With KitchenAid also beneath the Whirlpool umbrella, there was no need for the established brand to compete with an acquired inter-corporate rookie.

Mid-30s Moderne


The original KitchenAid Model K was produced by the Hobart Corporation and dates back to the Art Deco age when Raymond Loewy was the King of Industrial Design.  Though Loewy has been dubbed “The Designer of Everything” (including the Coca Cola bottle, automobiles and locomotives), the Model K was actually a creation of Egmont Arens – whose realm of design includes the ice cube dispenser and Electrolux vacuum cleaner.

Sensational in its day was the original Model K. [Image: Cindy Funk - Flickr]
Sensational in its day was the original Model K. [Image: Cindy Funk – Flickr]

Introduced in 1937 at a suggested retail price of $55.00, the Model K has been tweaked over the decades, but its appearance is essentially unchanged.  Though laudable for its longevity and basic form-and-function, the updated Model K shows its age when conspicuously placed in a 21st century kitchen.

Sensory Perception

The Artisan and crew get ready to mix-it-up.
The Artisan and crew get ready to mix-it-up.

The degree of Artisan drab becomes moot when the mixer is activated.  In the lower range of its ten available speeds, the motor spins with a growl and clash that startles and rankles.  While whipping fresh cream for a strawberry shortcake, several conversing guests fled the nearby counter stools – due to their inability to hear or be heard above the Artisan’s din.

To its credit, the Artisan has survived numerous kitchen challenges for more than a decade with a motor that sounds as if it’s been ready to fail since day-one.  Conversely, the Jenn-Air is handsome and quiet, but is fitted with a sloppy tilt-head lock that is inferior to that of the Artisan.

Utility

The Artisan with its standard equipment attachments and pour shield.
The Artisan with its standard equipment attachments and pour shield.

What KitchenAid delivers is variety.  Included as standard equipment are the wire whip, batter paddle and dough hook.  A clear plastic pour shield fits atop the 5-quart bowl to discourage flour waft and contain spatters.  Should an attachment make contact with the stainless steel bowl while in operation, a screw located on the underside of the tilt-head will adjust the attachment up or down.

A power-take-off shaft on the front of the mixer will accept more than a dozen optional attachments.  A juicer, food processor, meat grinder, grain mill and an assortment of pasta gadgets prevail.  Though I currently own none, the optional ice cream maker is the most tempting potential acquisition.  But how long will I have to endure the motor noise before chowing-down on the resulting frozen delight?

Work In Progress

Planetary action makes quick work of this Toasted Coconut Cake batter.
Planetary action makes quick work of this Toasted Coconut Cake batter.

The Artisan‘s planetary action spins the attachment in the opposite direction of the head – this all-inclusive dual orbit minimizes the need for continually scraping the bowl.  As a result, be aware that whipping heavy cream or egg whites to a desired consistency requires much less time to accomplish vs. a conventional mixer.

While kneading bread dough, the motor doubles-down on gear gnash, but its growl belies its durability.  I’ve never trusted the Artisan to a double-dose of dough, though there are those who do without apparent consequence.  Both the dough hook and batter paddle wear a plastic coating and are dishwasher safe – as is the 5-quart stainless steel bowl.  Due to its aluminum base, I always hand-wash the wire whisk.

Even when cornered, the Artisan lives large.
Even when cornered, the Artisan lives large.

Dependability was for decades the Maytag motto, but it also applies to the KitchenAid Artisan through corporate acquisition.  Its versatility, ubiquity and legitimate (though strictly utilitarian) retro heritage – along with a competitive price and variety of vivid colors – make it the current king of kitchen clamor.  Every kitschy cookhouse should have one – and probably already does.

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My Toasted Coconut Walnut Cake awaits the oven.

KitchenAid division of Whirlpool Corporation
Customer eXperience Center
P.O. Box 218
St. Joseph, MI  49085
800-541-6390

All images generated by the author unless otherwise noted.

Just The Basics Laundry Detergent: Living Dye-Free

Just The Basics 2x Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent – Free of Perfumes and Dyes – in the 100-Ounce Bottle

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(4.5/5)

Pros: Contains no dyes or perfumes.  Works well.  Great sale price.  Made in the USA.

Cons: CVS house brand products may pose an availability issue.

Clean, fresh-smelling clothes will always prevail when using dye and perfume-free detergents.
Clean, fresh-smelling clothes will always prevail when using dye and perfume-free detergents.

I enjoy a clean residential environment – but the pathway to such a laudable goal puts a serious crimp in my dedicated fun time.  For aesthetic reasons, I would prefer to wash windows than either dishes or floors – though “none of the above” would more often get my vote.  Aside from having comprehensive laundry facilities on-site, I have amassed sufficient clothing, sheets and towels to provide for those extended periods of washday procrastination.

Suds ‘n’ Duds

Clean jeans are hard to find, since they are the wearable paper towel!
Clean jeans are hard to find, since they are the wearable paper towel!

When the mood arises (or unexpected visitors are due), I can go on a cleaning jag that’ll put things right in a hurry.  Since laundry doesn’t fit this “quick fix” profile, the eventual lack of clean socks will work wonders upon my motivation toward laundrification.

I, Allergen

I’ve become so sensitive to a strong fragrance that a simple stroll down the laundry aisle will have me in respiratory discomfort.  Add this plus dye to my clothing in the laundering process and my allergies become a totally tactile experience.  During a visit to my local CVS Pharmacy, I was compelled to purchase Just The Basics dye and fragrance-free Laundry Detergent.  Several brands of “free and clear” laundry products exist, but none are priced on-sale at less than a dollar per quart.

Just The Facts

Low-sudsing HE detergents rinse thoroughly and reduce wash times.
Low-sudsing HE detergents rinse thoroughly and reduce wash times.

Just The Basics 2x Concentrated Laundry Detergent is the generic house brand sold at CVS.  As described, it is absent of irritants such as artificial dyes and fragrances.  None of the problematic petrochemicals are listed – rather, the appearance of “Anionic and/or Nonionic Surfactants” act to lower the surface tension of wash water to facilitate the removal of foreign substances from clothing.  Containing biodegradable cleaning agents and no phosphorous makes for a septic-friendly detergent whose hypoallergenic properties double-down on happy.

Some towels become unbearably clean using Just The Basics.
Some towels become unbearably clean using Just The Basics.

Just The Basics is recommended for all high-efficiency machines.  The 100-ounce bottle supplies enough product to wash 64 loads – as per the directions provided.  An internet search poses the question as to which manufacturer provides the product to CVS, but furnishes no definitive answer to same.

The retail price for the 100-ounce bottle is $4.99 (US).  On-sale for $2.99 at regular intervals, the (reduced) price-per-wash load is approximately 4.6 cents.  The Swanson Healthy Home hypoallergenic laundry detergent – which uses plant-based surfactants – costs nearly 12 cents per load.  Both detergents have compatible claims, do not irritate the skin or respiratory system and clean clothes to an equal degree.

In The Field

Even the filthiest sock bottoms come clean with a standard wash and Just The Basics.
Even the filthiest sock bottoms come clean with a standard wash and Just The Basics.

Just The Basics works well in my front-loading Samsung washer – its low-suds claim is consistent with the HE labeling.  Due to the comfort of my home’s in-floor radiant heat, I go about the house in stocking feet throughout the winter.  As expected, this custom creates a challenge for any detergent when it comes to the discoloration that occurs from even the cleanest floors.  After a run through the wash with either detergent, my white crew socks return to like-new condition when laundered on the standard wash cycle.

Cleaning Up

When the sales run, I usually stock-up – who knows when CVS will wise-up and price their product accordingly.  When compared to the name brands, Just The Basics does the same job at one-third the price.

The CVS policy is one of “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back”.  In my experience, they have always maintained a courteous and hassle-free return policy in this regard.

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Distributed by:
CVS Pharmacy, Inc.
One CVS Drive
Woonsocket, RI  02895
1-800-shop-CVS

Made in the USA

All images generated by the author.

Mopar Mats For Jeep JK Wrangler: Happy Feet

Mopar Carpeted Front Floor Mat Set for Jeep (JK) Wrangler 2 Door in Dark Slate Grey

41TJDFjKiQL

(4.5/5)

Pros: Durable, attractive and easy-to-clean.  Priced right.  Better than original equipment.  Holding-up well after several Maine winters.

Cons: Wouldn’t be needed if the originals had been a quality pair.

Mopar floor mat before the clean-up crew arrived.
Mopar floor mat before the clean-up crew arrived.

It’s difficult to believe that five years have passed since I negotiated the purchase of my nifty Jeep Wrangler.  New sets of brakes, tires, ball joints and front shocks solidified the solid ride to like-new status.  A thorough going-over evicted a variety of critters from the air cleaner and exchanged the original spark plugs for a half-dozen state-of-the-art Bosch Platinum Plus 4.

 

With the mechanicals tip-top, I concentrated on the cosmetics.  A bath, some wax and a bit of detailing were all accomplished that first weekend.  Nothing like a new vehicle to motivate the owner – from past experience, we all know that it’s good to get as much of the fun done before the thrill is gone.

5-year-old Mopar floor mat after a quick once-over with the vacuum.
The same 5-year-old Mopar floor mat after a quick once-over with the vacuum.

Mats Matter

Only one issue remained – the cheapo original equipment front floor mats were a thumb in the eye of my quest for pre-owned perfection.  The original driver’s heel had worn a significant hole in the mat just south of the gas pedal.  Chintzy and filthy with a threadbare, short nap – even a long rest would not reclaim the limited appeal they had once possessed.

Glad All Over

Driver side mat shows some wear, but the cool Jeep logo monogram is all those climbing aboard will notice.
Driver side mat shows some wear, but the cool Jeep logo monogram is all those climbing aboard will notice. Note the hole that aligns with the post anchor.

At the Jeep‘s first dealer check-up, the parts peeps placed an order for the new mats.  Within a week they were in-hand and underfoot – and were superior to the originals.  A quality fit-and-finish make them an attractive accessory to the interior’s overall function and appeal.

Much more plush are these replacements, with a nubby rubber liner beneath that grips the base carpeting.  Embedded in the flooring on either side are hooked posts that align with holes in each mat to secure and prevent forward slippage – and the possibility of pedal interference.

Keep It Clean

The only thing happier than a clean Jeep is a muddy one.
The only thing happier than a clean Jeep is a muddy one.

Easily removed, these Mopar mats can be vacuumed with a beater bar on your patio or garage floor – or simply smacked against a rock to dis-embed the sand and small stones that gather.  In the spring, a short rinse with the garden hose will remove what the vacuum won’t.  I paid $60 (US) five-years ago and they still look great – amazing, in consideration of both the winter and mud seasons we experience annually.

Serious mud-puppies may find these inadequate for off-roading purposes – the custom, laser-fitted varieties that offer full-containment are superior for extreme conditions – and are priced accordingly.

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Exceptional

Years after purchase, I still enjoy finding the time to keep things ship-shape.  Among Wranglerites, a dirty Jeep equals one that’s recently had fun.  That said, everyone enjoys a bath and clean duds before steppin’-out for the evening – and the Wrangler JK is no exception.

Pinchers The Lobster: Adorably Inedible

Ty Toy Company “Pinchers the Lobster” Beanie Babies Stuffed Toy

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(4/5)

Pros: Small and silly.  Displays well in any environment.  Currently retired and just sits around the house.  No Maine residence should be without one.

Cons: Won’t do chores.  Cannot be eaten, should apocalypse occur.

Our local market offers half a pig for $199, but no lobster - a fact that pleases our crimson crustacean.
Our local market offers half a pig for $199 and a quarter of a steer for $329, but no lobster at any price – a fact that pleases our crimson crustacean.

My volunteer days at the local nursing home involved many diversions – the one I enjoyed most was calling the Bingo games in the Activities Room.  No matter how loudly the numbers were projected, there were always one or two players who required an additional prompt.  Napping was allowed and expected – due to the game’s inherent thrills and lightning speed.

While my mom was a resident, she became a Bingo savant who often traded-up in the popular post-game bargaining round.  She didn’t need no stinkin’ lavender sachets or perfume samples – Beanie Babies were the legal tender of this crowd – and the prize closet had an unlimited supply.

Meet Larry

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One of the post-Bingo negotiations netted Pinchers the Lobster, who had been nicknamed “Larry” – unlike the one-syllable Crunch the Shark – whose name has flow and needs no improvement.  Until recently, the rediscovered cuddly crustacean had lived in a cardboard box since moving day – an event that occurred more than six years ago.

Well Done

The local ice cream stand is probably one of the few Maine eateries whose menu does not include a lobster salad roll.
The local ice cream stand is probably one of the few Maine eateries whose menu does not include a lobster salad roll.

At a weight of 3.1 ounces and measuring 7.5 inches in length, “Larry” would qualify for catch-and-release, were he born an edible Maine lobster.  Instead of being spiny and creepy, he’s just plushy and full-o-beans.  Even those beady little eyes are exempted from the fright of his prototype’s unlovely pair.

The Ty Toy folks created “Pinchers” in 1993 and he’s already been retired – nice work if you can get it.  Seeing that his monthly expenses are nil, no state or federal pension is available.  Like the cat, he spends his time sitting-around the house looking cute – the only difference being that he doesn’t eat his weight in food every month and has no need for a “lobster box” in the guest bath.

Medium Rare

Pinchers [aka "Larry"] surrounded by his Bingo buddies.
Pinchers [aka “Larry”] surrounded by his Bingo buddies.
Even though his fleeting fame has ebbed, Pinchers the Lobster is available at a variety of vendors at equally disparate price-points.  One seller claims he is so rare, he merits a $500.00 (US) price tag.  This person should check the multitude of pages at eBay, where current prices begin at $1.49 (plus shipping).

Redder than Lenin and cute as can be, Pinchers the Lobster is the crown jewel of many a spirited Bingo negotiation.  Personally, I am equally smitten with Patti Platypus – whose scintillating purple and yellow motif clashes with everything virtually everywhere it’s placed.  What better way to say you’ve arrived?

Homedics Zen Springs Tabletop Fountain: You Zen Me

HoMedics Envirascape Zen Springs Tabletop Indoor Fountain  WF-ZEN (Non-Illuminated)

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(4/5)

Pros: Asian design influence.  Composite material has weight (stability) and features bronzed highlights.  Quiet operation.  Doesn’t leak.  Small footprint.

Cons: Those alleged “soothing sounds of cascading water and falling rain” were omitted from my Zen.  Water pump must remain totally submerged to maintain quiet operation.  The Zen‘s peace and harmony statement is one of near total invisibility.

It’s often humorous the gifts that well-meaning friends bestow upon us.  When I first received the Zen Springs fountain, my initial reaction was “What the bleep am I going to do with this?”  My busy suburban location was one where sirens and non-stop traffic comprised the daily audio soundtrack – the Zen‘s tiny trickle of tap water wouldn’t amount to a drop with its promised “relaxation meditation”.

Aside from producing “soothing sounds”, HoMedics also states that the Zen Springs Fountain “humidifies naturally and improves concentration”.

Can You Say Feng Shui?

Trickle-down... Zen style.

The art of Chinese Metaphysics (pronounced fung shway) represents the science of favorable positioning of inanimate objects in the human environment.  Due to the demure personality of the Zen Springs fountain, I placed it before a south-facing window so as to better detect the tinkling effect of its relaxing trickle.

Best Of Both Worlds

Despite the fact that the Zen Springs went completely unnoticed by visitors, I soon began to realize a better overall outlook coupled with a modest monetary gain that enabled me to become a future denizen within the home of my dreams.  Here in my quiet rural locale, I can better absorb the Zen Springs experience – though a close proximity is still required to fully disassociate the sound of its mystical stance from that of a well-equipped fish tank.

The Magic Within

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Will the metaphysical Zen assist my Jeep in becoming a meta-mechanical marvel?

The HoMedics EnviraScape Zen Springs Tabletop Indoor Fountain has a 6 x 4.5-inch footprint and stands 9-inches high.  Its inscrutable self resembles oiled and hammered bronze – though in reality it appears to be constructed of a composite acrylic material.  The Zen‘s base resembles that of my table saw, with its canted legs and significant wrap-around apron.

The inner plane of the removable cylindrical top features a stack of horizontal arms at staggered lengths to empower the mini-cascade.  A 6-foot power cord (with in-line on-off switch) connects the Zen-master to its Class 2 Transformer.

A tiny water pump is attached to the underside of the tank cover and is removed by lifting the top section.  To adjust for evaporation, water can be added to the slot in the cover, which acts as the cascade’s perpetual return to the tank.

Zen Springs Eternal

The cat caught "improving his concentration".
The cat caught “improving his concentration”.

Though my initial reaction was one of $%@#!, I have now been enlightened by the true meaning of the Zen Springs effect.  More than a decade has passed since the Zen‘s bestowal, and this sovereign ode to re-giftable items is still available for purchase through multiple vendors.

Three stars for the Zen Springs Tabletop Fountain – due to the fact that it has lived well beyond the term of its limited warranty.  Another star is affixed to satisfy the item’s needless and weirdness factors; respectively.

Made in China

All images generated by the author.

2007 Jeep (JK) Wrangler Sahara: The JK is A-OK

2007 Jeep JK Wrangler Sahara with Six-Speed Manual Transmission.

(4.5/5)

Pros: Body integrity.  Gas mileage.  Superior braking, forward lighting, traction and ground clearance.  ESP stability.  Wider track with an improved frame over previous generation (TJ).  If you buy informed and respect its limitations, could be the best vehicle on the planet.

Cons: Full-instrumentation went away with the TJ.  Option-rich Sahara equals added weight.  Rear vision compromised by wide C-pillar.  High-beam icon placement and intensity is annoying.  Uninformed purchasers who buy ’cause it’s cute.

IMAG0132 RT

I was on my way to the dump and there it sat – our local Jeep dealer had its latest pre-owned Wrangler on the lot.  The current generation JK in Rescue Green beckoned shiny as new – and a 6-speed manual, to boot!  1 test drive and 2 hours later, the 3-year-old Wrangler would be mine.

Five years to-the-day have passed since that happy marriage of man and machine.  Six winters-worth of snow – both greasy and fluffy – haven’t deterred the Wrangler – nor has the steep and winding gravel drive to my hilltop abode.

Drivetrain

Chrysler 3.8 V-6 produces more horses and better fuel economy than the previous generation 4.0 liter.
Chrysler 3.8 V-6 produces more horses and better fuel economy than the previous generation 4.0 liter.

The Wrangler’s 3.8 liter (231 cid) V-6 engine began service in 1991 powering Chrysler‘s minivans and cab-forward vehicles.  The conventional push-rod powerplant propels the 3,900 lb. Sahara to highway speeds in an acceptable fashion.  The 3.8 is mated to the Mercedes-sourced NSG370 6-speed manual transmission, which features gear ratios that enhance the engine’s available power.

A cylinder head upgrade for the JK application boosted the horsepower rating to 205.  Its adequate power band – coupled with the relatively short-throws of the NSG370 – provides an effortless and enjoyable run through the gears.  Following 20-plus years of dependable service, the 3.8 was retired in favor of the lighter and more sophisticated Pentastar V-6 – introduced to the Wrangler in 2012.

Mild-mannered Wrangler TJ [left] became The Incredible Hulk upon redesign.
Mild-mannered Wrangler TJ [left] became The Incredible Hulk upon redesign.
Utility

The current generation (JK) Wrangler is the previous generation (TJ) on steroids.  Taller, longer and wider, the increased ground clearance is assisted by the 18-inch wheel option available only on the Sahara series in 2007.

Hardtop models feature the "Freedom Top" - allowing front passengers that open-air experience with roof sections removed.
Hardtop models feature the “Freedom Top” – allowing front passengers an open-air experience with roof sections removed.

 

Front passenger comfort has been improved dramatically.  The hollowed-out tree stumps fitted to the TJ have been replaced by comfortable (albeit firm), durable (using Yes Essentials fabrics) and attractive height-adjustable buckets.  Lumbar and lateral support have also been greatly improved.  Due to the discontinuation of the TJ‘s clever fold-forward front passenger seat, access to the rear bench is problematic.  Kids and pets will appreciate the challenge, while adults and claustrophobics may insist on riding shotgun.

With the rear seat removed, there’s enough room to run errands – though a trip to the big-box hardware store could be interesting should you forget your tape measure.  The biggest item I’ve transported was a 51-inch television (in its original box), which just fit with the rear gate closed.  The good news is that, unlike a pickup, none of your friends will ask to borrow it on moving day.

Sahara vs. Rubicon

18-inch tire and wheel option for 2007 also carried axle and suspension upgrades.
18-inch tire and wheel option for 2007 also carried axle and suspension upgrades.

The manly JK Rubicon is a Youtube favorite – they slowly scale boulders and waterfalls with their lift kits and push-button detachable front sway bars, while the Sahara‘s gig is one of all that plus creature comforts.  Dedicated Wranglerites will mock the power windows, tilt-wheel and cruise control as unbecoming a true Jeep.  In fact, the optional wheel package on my Sahara includes the Rubicon‘s Dana 44 axles and gas-charged shock absorbers – the best of both worlds.

Such optional largess does equal added weight.  Air conditioning components, larger wheels and tires – along with an accumulation of gizmos like power window motors can’t help but make the Sahara a bit slower in the quarter-mile.  Despite this fact, the current computer MPG readout is 24.5 – exceptional when considering its nearly two-ton girth.  My initial disbelief resulted in a comprehensive mileage assessment, with the resulting computer-generated figures being deemed accurate.  My TJ, with its 4.0 liter AMC straight-six, never does better than 18 MPG – in spite of its being 700 lbs. lighter.

Interior Layout

AMC heritage is evident with the Gremlinesque bump-out above the center console. Low Climate Control panel placement can be precarious for those unfamiliar.
AMC heritage is evident with the Gremlinesque bump-out above the center console. While in motion, Low Climate Control panel placement can be precarious for those unfamiliar.

The tall dash with center panel bump-out is frightfully reminiscent of my 1970s-era AMC Gremlin.  The car-like instrument cluster features speedo and tach, flanked by temperature and fuel gauges.  The left dial houses the Mini Trip Computer – which shows mileage, compass, outside air temperature and miles remaining with available fuel.  The matching fluorescent green odometer includes two trip meters, for those simultaneous comings-and-goings.

Silly illuminated "Upshift" icon expired with the TJ generation - along with Amp and Oil gauges. The resulting cluster is uninspiring.
Silly illuminated “Upshift” icon expired with the TJ generation – along with Amp and Oil gauges. The resulting cluster is functional, yet unbefitting the Wrangler.

Gone is the TJ‘s fantastically inaccurate and annoying “Upshift” illuminated idiot arrow which, if heeded, would surely result in premature engine/transmission failure.  Sadly (and inexplicably) also gone is my TJ‘s superior full instrumentation, which appears to be unavailable on any JK model.

Open the rear gate to find under-floor stowage for valuables or accessories like my Whistler 12-volt air compressor.
Open the rear gate to find under-floor stowage for valuables or accessories like my Whistler 12-volt air compressor.

The eye-level, center-mounted AM-FM 6-speaker radio (with cargo-area-mounted sub-woofer) is capable of playing one CD at a time.  I assume it works but have never used this option.  The radio itself sounds great, is satellite-ready – and originally came with a one-year subscription.  Mounted lower are the climate settings, whose tiny icons and southern location divert too much attention to operate without thorough familiarization beforehand.

Unlike the TJ‘s conventional dash-mounted headlight switch, the JK has a column-mounted stalk that operates all illumination – including instrument, interior and fog lights.  The wiper stalk also operates the rear window wiper – a vast improvement over the TJ‘s poorly located dash-mounted toggle.

Driving Impressions

The added weight, wider track and longer wheelbase give the JK a more substantial feel behind the wheel.  Initially, the quieter engine, coupled with improved soundproofing made gas-clutch mixing precarious – especially with a Harley or two idling behind at intersections.  Dual sway bars inspire confidence in corners – a surprise considering the high center-of-gravity.

Any buyer dropping 30-Gs for a vehicle should expect a monogrammed canvas case for the manual.
Any buyer dropping 30-Gs for a vehicle should expect a monogrammed canvas case for the manual.

On smooth roads, the JK is stable, comfortable and relatively silent (with the optional hardtop).  On rougher roads, the solid-axle configuration can be precarious on washboard surfaces – due to the suspension’s excessive unsprung weight – whose physics require a longer component recovery.  My current ice-age location grows a bumper-crop of frost heaves every winter – a situation the JK handles in stride, if not always an excess of comfort.  Here, the TJ‘s lighter weight is somewhat of an advantage.

First in the Wrangler series is a curved windshield to eliminate afternoon glare toward oncoming vehicles.
First in the Wrangler series is a curved windshield to eliminate afternoon glare aimed toward oncoming vehicles.

The vehicle’s Electronic Stability Program (ESP) came in handy when an oncoming gasoline truck forced me onto the shoulder during a snowstorm.  Once back on the pavement, the computer intervened and corrected the resulting fishtail via a flurry of steering and anti-lock brake activity.  For drivers who don’t believe in ESP, pressing the dash-mounted button above the center console will override this feature.

Sounds cool - but so is the uni-bodied Jeep Liberty.
Sounds cool – but so is the uni-bodied Jeep Liberty.

The favorable ratios of the 6-speed NSG370 transmission give the 3.8 an added edge in outright performance.  With its short throws, pushing it through the gears results in better than adequate off-the-line acceleration without the four-cylinderesque power plateaus that plague some heavier vehicles.  The assistance of six Bosch Platinum Plus 4 spark plugs installed upon purchase made the V-6 perform more like a V-8.

The most important improvement over the Wrangler TJ‘s closed box-beam frame is a more open design that can be kept free of accumulating dirt and debris.  This, in combination with a yearly application of lightweight oil, will dramatically decrease the corrosion that has prematurely disabled many a TJ.

Benefits and Bugaboos

Intense and poorly placed, the High-Beam icon on the JK qualifies as a major Bugaboo when navigating dark rural roads.
Intense and poorly placed, the High-Beam icon on the JK qualifies as a major Bugaboo when navigating dark rural roads.

When an issue arises, the illuminating “Check Engine” light is accompanied by a klaxon horn audio prompt that’s impossible to ignore.  There’s no need for dealer intervention, for a series of on-off-on ignition key manipulations will reveal the trouble code by way of the odometer – mine indicated a faulty left-side post-converter oxygen sensor.  The procedure to accomplish this and a list of codes can be easily found online.

The early JKs are prone to premature ball-joint wear at around 60,000 miles.  Through the course of dealer negotiations, my JK received four new ones – as well as an equal number of new tires, a complete brake job and state inspection sticker.  After two years, I replaced the rear brake calipers due to excessive corrosion.  The local dealer listed “improved” replacements for under a hundred bucks – so far, so good.

A tight squeeze with the hood down does not deter house-hunting pests. Some bronze window screen acts as a "no vacancy" sign.
A tight squeeze with the hood down does not deter house-hunting pests. A small section of bronze window screen acts as a “no vacancy” sign.

The funniest find so far was contained within the sizable air filter housing.  My post-purchase inspection revealed a mouse nest, an expired blue jay and about a pound of wolf hair matted against the washboard-style disposable filter element.  A square of bronze window screen formed over the intake and secured with wire prevented further invasion.  Once remedied, the mileage improved from 16.5 to 22.7 MPG within the first ten miles of driving.  The introduction of the aforementioned spark plugs has improved mileage even more.

Jeep Wisely

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Countless are the stories of ornery folks who purchased without performing the proper research.  The Jeep Wrangler is a specialty vehicle, not a lowly Honda Civic that anyone can jump in and drive.  Entry and egress require a moderate degree of agility and flexibility.  The best fuel consumption numbers I’ve achieved are 26.9 MPG – about those of the 5-cylinder Volvo V-70.  Be aware that examples equipped with an automatic transmission will not approach any of the mileage numbers mentioned here in regard to the 6-speed manual.

The Bottom Line – don’t buy one because you think it’s cute.  Conversely, if you know what you’re buying and respect its limitations, the Jeep Wrangler JK is a handsome, all-weather, confidence-inspiring absolute hoot to drive.  In my five years of ownership, it’s been a remarkably reliable and trustworthy go-anywhere wonder.

Metropolitan Coffee House, North Conway, NH: The House Rules!

The Metropolitan Coffee House and Fine Art Gallery in North Conway Village, New Hampshire

(5/5)

Pros: Location.  Friendly atmosphere.  Extensive beverage menu has something for everyone.  Best coffee east of anywhere.  Their Limoncello Custard Cake alone is worth the experience.  New management now features luncheon fare.  Situated within the best piece of real estate in the village.

If you’re fortunate in this life, you have experienced a comfortable place where the real world abates and allows you some space.  For reasons to which no mere mortal can attest, the Metropolitan Coffee House provides me with just such a spot of sublime intervention.

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Situated adjacent to Schouler Park in the heart of North Conway Village, this tall brick Victorian melds the elegant bones of a former bank with the soul of a Neapolitan bistro – from espresso to gelato to the heavenly croissant, the Met enables an international pause to the diverse attractions found amongst the bustle in this walkable, year-round New England experience.

Coffee Lovers And Others

New proprietor Larry Flaherty is the Michelangelo of Met renaissance. Note the chandelier halo.
New proprietor Larry Flaherty is the Michelangelo of Met renaissance. Note the chandelier halo.

Of the numerous dark and medium-roast coffees dispensed, the Met‘s Community Blend is the holy grail of this life-long java-quaffer. With its mellow attitude and chocolatey demeanor, I can sip all day and never get enough.  If you like a blue-collar cup, Regular Joe is the meat-and-potatoes of the coffee world.  The house Decaf borders on the dark side, so swig accordingly.  Nearly a dozen Artistic Lattes are just a barista away.

If whole-bean is your scene and you brew at home, all varieties of coffee served-up at the Met are available for purchase in-house.  Grind it yourself, or let the Met do it.  Ask about the Met Card – present it with each purchase to access special offers.  Their buy 10, get 1 free deal is sweet when you check-out and hear the words: “this one’s on us!”.

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Several varieties of tea (both hot and iced) appear on the menu, along with a number of Fruity Smoothies – plus their chocolate and vanilla cohorts.  This being New England, Apple Cider is a menu must – straight-up or with ginger, cinnamon, caramel or maple.

Child Prodigy?

What better way to live large than by indulging in a Met delight!
What better way to live large than by indulging in a Met delight!

The pastry showcase represents Christmas, year-round.  I’ve witnessed admiring patrons perplexed by the prolific prospects presented – their Limoncello Custard Layer Cake is so good, I was compelled to duplicate this tangy treasure in my very own kitchen.

If it were a French delicacy, I could Youtube Julia Child for its secrets within, but Italian was just not her gig.  Thanks to my efforts and the Met‘s motivation, my favorite lemony layers are nearly as memorable as theirs.

Met For Lunch010

There is no shortage of eateries in the village – but none exist with superior mood, location or attention to detail.  The Met‘s new management brings to the table a trio of sandwich specials.  Your selection of Ham, Roast Beef or Roast Turkey can reside upon a bagel, roll or multi-grain croissant.  Threes are wild with accompanying cheeses – sharp Cheddar, American or imported Swiss can be yours.  Toppings include lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle.  This and a crisp pile of chips for just $6.95 (US).

Gelato

Gelato room can be accessed from the side entrance or the coffee shop.
The Gelato room can be accessed from the side entrance or through the coffee shop.

Everyone’s frozen Italian delight occupies its own section of the Met.  The current menu lists nine flavors – including those both traditional and exotic – should Banana Caramel Swirl fit the definition.  Of the four Sorbet flavors that appear, Strawberry Balsamic sounds most avant-garde – if not bordering on madcap.

The Fine Art Part

The Met‘s high ceilings provide ample wall space for the display of available work by local artists.  An assortment of framed oils, watercolors and photographs reflecting the area’s natural beauty vie for the attention of appreciative patrons and a small slice of their vacation budget.

Update Update

Caffeinated vocabularians can invent new words now that Deluxe Scrabble is in the House!
Caffeinated vocabularians can invent new words now that Deluxe Scrabble is in the House!

Since assuming proprietorship, Larry Flaherty has reclaimed the interior’s wood-paneled, centurial grandeur with new paint and updated lighting.  Intimate and inviting, the upstairs lounge now assumes game room status with the likes of chess, checkers and Deluxe Scrabble.  Watch incoming and departing trains on the Conway Scenic Railroad from the room’s comfy window seat.

If you enjoy lazy summer days with your cuppa’ Joe, the outdoor seating with a view of the park is a Met staple that remains unequaled.

Location Times Three

Photo shows Free WiFi - and a free plug for the local 5-and-10.
Photo shows Free WiFi – and a nod for the local 5-and-dime.

The Met is a short walk from anywhere in the village.  Adjacent to the common (Schouler Park) via Norcross Circle, it neighbors the train station, plus numerous shops and attractions.

Five stars for the experience that is the Met.  If you knew a place where your planets align when you walk through the door, could you rate it anything less?

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The Metropolitan Coffee House and Fine Art Gallery is located at the intersection of White Mountain Highway (Route 302-16) and Kearsarge Road in North Conway, New Hampshire.  For more details and hours of operation, click on the above link.

The Met006
2680 White Mountain Highway
North Conway, NH  03860
(603)-356-2332

Planets Image:  pekiwiki-loja.wikispaces.com.
All other images generated by the author.

Winter-A-Go-Go: “Hittin’ The Coke Bar Hard”

“Winter-A-Go-Go” (1965) DVD (2011)

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(03.5/5)

Pros: No shortage of heavenly bodies.  Location footage filmed at California’s Eldorado National Forest.  Gorgeous remastered print looks as if it were released last week.

Cons: Winterized ersatz Beach Boys score.  Excessive wool and flannel makes for one-way T&A.  Lines such as “Hey guys… since we’re awake, let’s go down and have a hip square dance!” abound.

My dentist is a happenin’ dude – his late-20s surfer look belies that quality Tufts education.  While waiting for today’s Novocaine to abate, I partook of an equally groovy crowd on the All Columbia All The Time Channel (Sony‘s sub-channel getTV).  The king of 60s celluloid surf, Columbia Pictures trades beach-bunnies for the ski variety in Winter-A-Go-Go.

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Free TV:  Screen Gems such as Winter-A-Go-Go appear courtesy of Sony’s new digital sub-channel network.  [Image:  CPT Holdings, Inc.]

Pretty Handsome

Not an ounce of fat appears on the cast or the plot.  Otherwise destined for cinematic obscurity, this gorgeous group of players and California locations are the film’s principal purpose.  The production values are excellent for a genre pic – a half-century later, the (remastered) rich Pathecolor process has lost none of its original luster.

Thimble-Full Of Plot

Any storyline synopsis of Winter-A-Go-Go would be inherently free of spoilers.  Boy acquires ski lodge, assumes mortgage and hatches plan to meet same.  Evil corporate dude desires lodge and does dispatch twenty-something calendar-boys to enable the dastardly deed.  Insert bikini-clad go-go girls often and at random.  Place suitcase-style record player prominently to spin the forgettable score.

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Director Richard Benedict started his career acting in such films as this Billy Wilder film-noir classic.  [Image:  Paramount Pictures]

Perky Mountain Views

Frosty location scenes involving scantily-clad snow-bunnies can harbor unexpected results.  The frisky, frustrated lads resort to fistfights and macho, ski-sweatered grapplings on more than one occasion.  Sorry gals – despite its innocuous adolescent homoerotics, Winter-A-Go-Go is one-way T&A – these guys are encased in more wool than your average ewe.

Mountain Views (Sans Double-Entendre)

Physical beauty also abounds in the Lake Tahoe locations – scenes involving the sights garnered at Eldorado National Forest are striking – snow-capped peaks under clear blue skies.  Despite its occasional cost-saving redundancy (and seemingly endless ski-lift footage) it forgives the plot’s flaws-of-omission.

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Eldorado National Forest is even prettier than the cast.  [Image:  Flickr.com]

Generational Misunderstandings

Early dialogue references to the lodge’s “Coke Bar” will draw the curious viewer’s attention.  Comic disappointment rules when G-rated mid-centurians line-up at the soda fountain for icy glasses of Coca-Cola in the alcohol-free environment.  If this film was produced and released ten-years later and starred Jack Nicholson, it would be a cult classic.  As it stands, Winter-A-Go-Go offers dubious insight to an age of innocence long past.  Like Novocaine, its diversionary reward dulls the senses and wears-off with time.

Winter-A-Go-Go  (1965)
Columbia Pictures
Director:  Richard Benedict
DVD:  SPHE (2011)

Fleischmann’s Yeast: It’s Pizza Night !!!

Fleischmann’s Instant Dry Yeast – 1-lb. Package

(4.5/5)

Pros: Gets a rise out of any flour.  Available everywhere.  Forget the expensive, pricey packets – go for the pound!

Cons: If you don’t bake your own bread, a pound will last a very long time.

In my former location, Friday was pizza night.  I’d bake the pies, while the regulars each had their mission – homemade antipasto and a variety of beverages would arrive like clockwork.  It’s amazing how many different combinations of toppings one can imagine – we tried them all – though I believe pineapple and the dreaded anchovy were abandoned early on.

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Before…

We loved our veggies.  Onions, peppers and mushrooms were a must with most meat toppings, while broccoli and black olive were a hit with the Teriyaki marinated chicken.  We even went wild with capers, pickled artichoke hearts and the leek.  A member of the onion family, leeks are mild and flavorful – the perfect pizza prospect.

...and after.

…and after.

Can You Say Pissaladiere?

After trying a variety of crusts, the gang preferred the classic Pissaladiere with its thin crunch, caramelized onions and tangy Greek olives.  I’ve Americanized this French Provencal standard with an assortment of toppings – but that divine crust has become the house favorite.

Pissaladiere Splendide [Image: Emily Heston, Foodista.com]

Pissaladiere Splendide  [Image:  Emily Heston Foodista.com]

The Yeast You Can Do

The beauty of this recipe is that it takes place entirely within your standard food processor.  Simply place 1-1/2 cups of bread flour in the bowl, along with 1 teaspoon of sugar, a half-teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons Fleischmann’s Instant Dry Yeast.  My diversions from this classic formula include the addition of 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, a half-teaspoon garlic powder and a sprinkle of celery salt.  Those with a yen for flame can add a dash of Cayenne pepper.  These amounts will produce sufficient dough to assemble a 14-inch diameter pie.

A Food Processor makes this recipe as easy-as-pie!

A Food Processor makes this recipe as easy as pie!

Run your food processor for a few seconds to mix-it-up and add a tablespoon of olive oil through the feed tube.  ¾ cup of tepid milk (100 degree Fahrenheit), poured slowly into the mix will cause the dough to form a ball.  At this point, the dough is ready to rise – the machine has done all the work!

Our dough on the way to a first rise.

Our dough on its way to a first rise.

Long Live Yeast!

My pound package of Fleischmann’s Instant Dry Yeast was purchased a year ago.  The manufacturer recommends that once the product is opened, it should be used within six months – but by keeping it sealed within a plastic storage container and refrigerated, my year-old yeast is still capable of achieving an excellent rise.  The printed expiration date works-out to fifteen-months from the date of purchase.  For convenience, an Industrial Use Conversion Table is printed on the side of the package.

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Let’s Top The Pissaladiere

Tonight’s toppings include onions and mushrooms.  After slicing to your preference, microwave for about a minute and pour-off the water they will exude so as to avoid a swampy pie from the oven.  No need to precook the garlic.  If you like your onions caramelized, simply saute briefly in olive oil with a teaspoon of brown sugar added.  I’m using a meat sauce, so this recipe isn’t vegan, but it forgoes any additional meat.

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After an hour’s rise, knead for 2 minutes and roll-out on a floured board to about an inch beyond the diameter of your pizza stone (or favorite pan).  Sprinkle some cornmeal on top and gently roll this in – this will be the bottom of the crust and will add to the crispiness.  Arrange cornmeal-side down on the stone, roll the excess dough under and pinch to complete the edge.

A sturdy edge will contain all the toppings while it bakes.

Simply fold under and pinch.  A sturdy crust holds the toppings secure while baking.

Let’s Assemble

Using a pastry brush, apply a thin layer of olive oil to protect dough from the sauce.  Spread the sauce evenly to the crust.  This is where cook’s opinions differ – to some, the next step is cheese, then the toppings.  This is good if you have a pizza oven that achieves a higher temperature.  For the longer time necessary in a conventional oven, the cheese on top will prevent the meat and veggies from drying-out.

A good-quality olive oil is vital for proper pizza assemblage.

A good quality olive oil is essential to proper pizza assemblage.

Let’s Eat!!!

Using a stone, a thin-crust pizza will take about 35 minutes @ 400 degrees (Fahrenheit) to achieve a crispy, golden crust.  When placed on a wire rack, the stone will continue to transfer oven heat to the pie as it is being served.  Adding a hearty antipasto (or tossed salad, if you prefer), some bread sticks and the beverage of choice will satisfy any appetite.

Pre-cooking the veggies enough to remove excess moisture will prevent a swampy pie.

Pre-cooking the veggies enough to remove excess moisture will avoid a swampy pie.

Meet The New Gang

Alas… my current rural location doesn’t allow the old gang to congregate weekly as it once did.  Now, Saturday Night is Pizza Night – accompanied by a comic dose of televised Sci-Fi with the new gang.  And if there are leftovers, a convenient mid-week meal is just a freezer away!

Leftover pizza can be stored in the fridge in a sealed plastic container. For crispiest crust, reheat for 25 minutes at 300 degrees.

Leftovers can be frozen or stored in a sealed plastic container.  For the crispiest crust, reheat in a 300 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Fleischmann’s Instant Dry Yeast
Distributed by ACH Food Companies, Inc.
Memphis, TN  38016

Made in Canada

New Balance Country Walkers: Soleful Strut

New Balance Men’s Country Walkers

 

(4.5/5)

Pros: Attractive, earthy look is non-trendy classic.  Size-appropriate – my size thirteen, triple-E feet are pleased.  NB’s overall stability, Abzorb cushioning and otherwise comfy fit suited to uneven terrain, gravel, grass or concrete.  Non-marking soles grip without tracking-in excessive muck.

Cons: Longer than expected break-in.  Stiff cushioning in Achilles area takes some getting used to.  A bit over-insulated for mid-summer wear.

I harbor no shoe fetish.  The footwear shelf in my walk-in closet features steel-toed Timberlands, Merrill winter boots and hikers – and dress shoes in brown and black.

Country Walkers decked-out at Home.
Country Walkers decked-out at Home.

One fateful day, the local LL Bean outlet had a lone pair of New Balance Men’s Country Walkers on the triple-discount rack – in a wide size thirteen, to boot! Suddenly, I was channeling former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos – while I could never match her historic footwear collection, the Country Walkers that enabled my comfortable stroll around the store would soon join my otherwise conservative collection.

Preference

Country Walkers stylin at Micky Dees.
Country Walkers underemployed at Mickey Dees.

My first set of Merrill footwear was so totally comfortable, they appeared to be custom made. Previous treks through the city in a variety of brands would result in pain due to lack of support for my high arches. My long-term concern with the New Balance Country Walkers in this regard was unfounded – the support is similar to the Merrill hikers. NB‘s Abzorb technology and the Merrill‘s cushioned Vibram soles both make long walks pleasantly pain-free.

The best footwear acts as an extension of the foot itself.  Both brands offer a snug, stable stance.  Early on, my biggest beef with the New Balance Country Walkers was a stiffness in the cushioning above the heel.  If they weren’t tied tightly, my Achilles tendon would experience a slight chafing from the foot’s vertical movement.  Fortunately, mileage logged during the initial break-in period has resolved this issue.

Style

Country Walkers smokin at the Cigar Emporium, North Conway, NH.
Country Walkers smokin at Village Cigar, North Conway, NH.

Not one to appreciate flash, my attraction to these tan-on-brown triple-E tugboats is steadfast.  Conservative is cool – when you have size thirteen feet, there’s no need to draw attention to same with flashing lights and fluorescent grape trim.  The NB‘s Ndurance rubber outsole and  midsole C-Cap support is the bling within.  Their style tops the Merrill‘s muted orange-and-brown motif by a country mile.

Construction

Weighing-in at just under a pound each, my New Balance Country Walkers have endured a couple of year’s wear with no sign of failure.  While trekking through the Maine woods has given them character, the suede uppers and associated stitching all remain intact.  The soles are sufficiently aggressive to insure stability while tracking-in a minimum of nature’s outdoor debris.

Country Walkers Chillin at the Met, North Conway, NH.
Country Walkers Chillin at the Met, North Conway, NH.

Though it appears the triple-mesh in the upper design would provide adequate cooling, these are not the best mid-summer shoe – here the lighter, more flexible uppers installed in the Merrill win outright.  And northern New England has a mild summer compared to most of the New Balance market territory.

Reshod Redux?

Successful products continue to evolve – I see that the latest update includes a common-sense pair of sturdy loops at the rear.  When my New Balance Men’s Country Walkers finally wear-out, I will likely buy another pair.  They’re attractive, comfortable and, while stylishly shod, I can work all three pedals in my 6-speed Jeep JK unencumbered – which is no small feat while sporting such a pair.

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Country Walkers pass the Tugboat Test on All Three Pedals!

New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc.
Brighton Landing
Boston, MA  01235
800-595-9138